Sub-theme 04: [SWG] Movements, Markets, and Morality: Common Grounds and Unchartered Territories

Simone Schiller-Merkens
Witten/Herdecke University, Germany
Philip Balsiger
University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland
Sebastian Koos
University of Konstanz, Germany

Call for Papers

Over the past decade, scholarship on morality and markets has consolidated. It has produced empirical insights on markets as diverse as recycling, renewable energy, and organic food (Lounsbury, Ventresca & Hirsch, 2003; Sine & Lee, 2009; Weber, Heinze & DeSoucey, 2008). Scholars have identified common processes and dynamics, including the contention of markets and corporations by social movements (King & Pearce, 2010; Bartley et al., 2015), moral struggles in and around markets (Balsiger & Schiller-Merkens, 2019), or the rise of moral market categories (Balsiger, 2019; Schiller-Merkens, 2017).

In this sub-theme, we welcome papers focusing on the emerging common ground of this literature on movements, markets, and morality, and invite contributions that expand it towards unchartered territories, including the following:

Moral projects, alternative organizing, and the dynamics of alternatives to capitalism
Under notions such as postcapitalism (Zanoni et al., 2017) and alternative capitalism (Parker et al., 2014), alternative forms of organizing economic exchange have been discussed (Schiller-Merkens, 2020; Mair & Rathert, 2021), with a variety of social movements being central drivers behind. Common to moral projects such as the economy for the common good, post- or degrowth, community-supported agriculture, food councils, local currencies, or transition towns is a deep discontent with powerful economic actors in a globalized world and with the detrimental consequences of neoliberal capitalism. How are these projects morally justified? How do underlying moral orders clash with the orders underlying conventional market exchange? Who is involved in these struggles, and how are conflicting moral orders negotiated and resolved by social movements and economic actors?
Inherent in these projects is the belief that alternative forms require the empowerment of new actors, including citizens and social movements. How does such empowering of democratic and participatory forms of organizing look like? What’s the particular role of movements and civil society organizations in such forms of alternative organizing? Which tensions and struggles arise between the various parties involved and how do the actors navigate them?
How do projects of alternative organizing evolve over time? Do they constitute viable alternatives to conventional markets, and do they have better social and environmental outcomes than the conventional forms of economic coordination that they challenge? On what kinds of mixes between market conventions and alternative forms of coordination do they build, and how do these evolve? How do the collective identities and tactics of participating movements emerge and change over time?
Caring capitalism: New moral justifications of markets and entrepreneurship
In parallel to the critical development of alternative forms of organizing markets, there is also a renewed movement of market advocates who present markets as sites for developing efficient solutions to grand challenges in the globalized world. "Caring capitalists" (Barman, 2016) develop discourses and practices that aim at a reconciliation of money and mission by using markets to address challenges like inequality, poverty, and global warming. How does "caring capitalism" challenge and disrupt long-established ways of addressing pressing social problems? What are the social, environmental, and political consequences of such social entrepreneurship? Do movements play a role in developing solutions, and if so, in which ways?
The dark side of moral projects on markets
Moral projects might be conflicting with the widely shared values of democratic societies or, despite positive intentions, lead to undesirable unintended consequences. Historically, moralization on markets has also been linked to particularistic, nationalist, and even racist ideas. The recent rise of populism and ethnocentrism illustrates such tensions. Social movements' claims for regional production and consumption are nowadays also made by right-wing movements. Local alternative communities are established by both prefigurative social movements and nationalist movements. Is there a difference between these opposing social movements in constructing and justifying morality on markets? Do these movements differ in their strategies, tactics, and targets? More broadly, under which conditions are unintended consequences of social movement activism more likely?
Moralities in the digital era and movement activism
Finally, one reason for the increased moral contestation in markets is digitalization and its consequences for society (Vallas and Schor, 2020). The formation of a platform economy and the rise of powerful internet companies has shifted power structures and transformed existing production and consumption patterns. What moral struggles form around digitalization, and what role do social movements play therein? Which actors are involved in defining and setting standards and in regulating the digital economy? How does digitalization create space for new "repertoires of contention" for targeting the economy?


  • Balsiger, P. (2019): “The Dynamics of ‘Moralized Markets’: A Field Perspective.” Socio-Economic Review, 19 (1), 59–82.
  • Balsiger, P., & Schiller-Merkens, S. (2019): “Moral Struggles in and around Markets.” Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 63, 3–26.
  • Barman, E. (2016): Caring Capitalism: The Meaning and Measure of Social Value. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Bartley, T., Koos, S., Samel, H., Setrini, G., & Summers, N. (2015): Looking Behind the Label: Global Industries and the Conscientious Consumer. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • King, B.G., & Pearce, N.A. (2010): “The Contentiousness of Markets: Politics, Social Movements, and Institutional Change in Markets.” Annual Review of Sociology, 36 (1), 249–267.
  • Lounsbury, M., Ventresca, M., & Hirsch, P.M. (2003): “Social Movements, Field Frames and Industry Emergence: A Cultural-Political Perspective on US Recycling.” Socio-Economic Review, 1 (1), 71–104.
  • Mair, J., & Rathert, N. (2021): “Alternative Organizing with Social Purpose: Revisiting Institutional Analysis of Market-Based Activity. Socio-Economic Review, 19 (2), 817–836.
  • Parker, M., Cheney, G., Fournier, V., & Land, C. (eds.) (2014): The Routledge Companion to Alternative Organization. Milton Park: Routledge.
  • Schiller-Merkens, S. (2017): “Will Green Remain the New Black? Dynamics in the Self-Categorization of Ethical Fashion Designers.” Historical Social Research, 42 (1), 211–237.
  • Schiller-Merkens, S. (2020): Scaling Up Alternatives to Capitalism: A Social Movement Approach to Alternative Organizing (in) the Economy. MPIfG Discussion Paper 20/11. Köln: Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.
  • Sine, W.D., & Lee, B.H. (2009): “Tilting at Windmills? The Environmental Movement and the Emergence of the U.S. Wind Energy Sector.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 54 (1), 123–155.
  • Vallas, S., & Schor, J.B. (2020): “What Do Platforms Do? Understanding the Gig Economy.” Annual Review of Sociology, 46 (1), 273–294.
  • Weber, K., Heinze, K.L., & Desoucey, M. (2008): “Forage for Thought: Mobilizing Codes in the Movement for Grass-fed Meat and Dairy Products.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 53 (3), 529–567.
  • Zanoni, P., Contu, A., Healy, S., & Mir, R. (2017): “Post-capitalistic Politics in the Making: The Imaginary and Praxis of Alternative Economies.” Organization, 24 (5), 575–588.
Simone Schiller-Merkens is Senior Researcher at the Reinhard Mohn Institute of Management at Witten/Herdecke University, Germany. In her research, she is generally interested in moral issues in and around organizing and in organizing for social transformation. Simone studies social movements and the formation of moral market fields and categories, imaginaries of the future of moral market actors, as well as prefiguration and alternative organizing.
Philip Balsiger is an Assistant Professor of Economic Sociology at the Institute of Sociology, University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland. In his research, he studies the interactions of social movements and corporations and the dynamics of market moralization from the point of view of economic sociology and social movement studies. Philip has published articles in journals such as ‘Business & Society’, ‘Socio-Economic Review’, or ‘Social Movement Studies’.
Sebastian Koos is an Assistant Professor of Corporate Social Responsibility at the Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Konstanz, Germany. In his research, he studies consumer and corporate responsibility from a comparative perspective combining institutional and social movement theories. Sebastian’s research appeared in journals such as ‘Socio-Economic Review’, ‘British Journal of Industrial Relations’, ‘Journal of Consumer Policy’, ‘Acta Sociologica’, or ‘Policy and Society’.